Well, I might as well just come straight out with it – this is one of my favorite reads of the year, and in a year where I have read a lot of fantastically good books. I am something of a fan of Victorian and Regency era novels, so the Fantasy of Manners subgenre appeals to me quite a bit. But this book could have been written specifically to please me, so keep that in mind if I fangirl a little bit.
The book opens with a scene some years prior to the story – our main character is shown as a young girl, prodded into helping to perform a séance by her rather well to-do family. Evidently young Thea is a genuinely gifted spiritualist in a sea of fakes, and so she reluctantly does as she’s asked. And something goes horribly, tragically wrong.
Suddenly we shift to the present, and Dorothea Hawes is an absolute wreck of a human being. Wracked with constant pain, the voices of the dead torment her and even sleep is no refuge. Something is horribly amiss in London, and when a former priest named Julian Chissick begs for her aid to investigate a murder, she begins to realize the enormity of the problem. What follows is a rising sense of unease and discomfort for both Thea and the reader as the plot unravels around her.
Now, obviously being FoM it’s not a book for people who want a lot of fight scenes, battles and badass wisecracking protagonists. This is a novel best suited to people who love the classics, who want something a little different, who love a good ghost story or a murder mystery. I think fans of Agatha Christie would find much to love.
The Half Killed is a beautifully written slow burn of a novel. The Victorian voice is well executed and thoroughly researched, with a host of wonderful little details about the era mixed in for flavor. Thea is a fabulous example of a strong female character who is not physically strong, and who has moments of extreme weakness. I loved her chemistry with Chissick, who takes on the role of her protector while treating her with utmost deference and respect. The prose is lovingly crafted and I found myself pausing just to admire various sentences throughout.
It’s almost as if Elizabeth Gaskell wrote fantasy at times, with a rather Dickensian host of colorful side characters and a deeply unromantic depiction of Victorian London. In the Half Killed we are shown that London’s underbelly is and always was a grimy, seedy place. I found myself gasping out loud with genuine horror when a favorite character was attacked, and the sinister tone kept me up far later than intended when I started reading. It’s an absolute page-turner with some nice twists and a satisfying conclusion. After I finished it I immediately purchased 3 copies to give to friends as Christmas gifts, and I can’t give it a higher endorsement than that. I love this book, and I want to share it with the people I love. It is well worth your time.
r/Fantasy 2017 Squares
- Debut Fantasy Novel
- Fantasy of Manners